Autumn is upon us — that time of year when the leaves go brilliant and crisp, the chilly air heavy with fog and thoughts turn to hot apple cider and pumpkin pie. Since I’ve become a parent, the harvest season also means marking time through a visit to the pumpkin patch. Sure, every grocery store from Trader Joe’s to Metropolitan Market is practically glowing from the orange avalanche mounded in front of sliding doors, but where is the fun in picking up your decorative squash from a supermarket? Memories aren’t made at a grocery store, people. They require slogging through muddy fields and possibly getting lost in a corn maze, not to mention spying the perfect pumpkin at the far corner of the field only to discover the backside in such a state of decomposition that it’s clearly been dead for at least two weeks.
The Seattle metropolitan area has dozens of nearby farm options, from Fall City to Mount Vernon. When the “patch” we frequented for many years began charging for parking and was packed to the gills with visitors like some sort of Disneyland ranch, we decided to look elsewhere for our farm fix. Part of me hesitates to share this gem for fear you all will show up, but the better part of me wants the whole state to know about Gordon Skagit Farms.
Situated just west of downtown Mount Vernon off McLean Road, the 250 acres of Gordon Skagit Farms is operated by brothers Eddie and Todd Gordon. They come from a long line of farmers and might, therefore, seem like shoo-ins for the farmer role. But, one peek at the Autumn Market — the display of products and whatnot in front of the fields — and you’ll know you’ve stumbled onto something a little bit different.
Families crowd in front of massive 8-by-4 foot impressionist murals, snapping photos while posing on tractors and hay bales. Cairns of ribbed and knobby gourds teeter throughout the market, orange, green and white nestled on top of each other like squash stalagmites. A giant steel pumpkin skeleton anchors the display area as if Cinderella’s carriage petrified at the stroke of midnight.
Though a lifetime student of farming, Eddie Gordon spent his college years immersed in art and design at Western Washington University. As a child, he remembers being obsessed with fairy tales and, in particular, the illustrations and folklore in The Book of Gnomes. His sense of whimsy is evident in everything from the farm’s website to its market display.
Over cheap and delicious tacos at Calle in Mount Vernon, Eddie and I discussed all manner of farm-and-art related topics — the race against opportunistic crows that fancy squash seeds, the emotion of a landscape. We crunched on fried grasshoppers (when in Rome one must try the chapulines taco, right?) and debated the merits of Japanese mating disrupters versus conventional pesticides for the 600 Jonagold apple trees. But, it’s not all germination and expressionism with Eddie. He and Todd run a business.
“Businesses have to reinvent themselves every few years to survive,” says Eddie. That’s why Gordon Skagit Farms, founded in 1932, specialized in pumpkins and apples beginning in 1969. That’s why the current Gordon brothers pay attention to vegetarian and gluten-free trends when planning culinary events at the farm. And that’s why they choose to fly the creativity flag in an otherwise traditional, conservative farming region.
Eddie also appreciates the community aspect of the farm, both internally within the valley and externally through the visitors attracted to the area during harvest time.
“The farm is a point of communication with customers. It provides a physical experience,” says Eddie. And people who wouldn’t normally go see art are exposed to it in the most unlikely of places — far from white gallery walls and fashionably ironic clothing.
Though it may seem like Gordon Skagit Farms is the Fremont neighborhood of Skagit Valley farmland, it is very down-to-earth and approachable, offering free parking, a U-pick pumpkin patch and a free and easily navigated corn maze. The haunted barn is tastefully spooky for young children, the colorful chickens entertaining to watch. And the scores of pumpkins, squashes and gourds artfully arranged will have you posting pics to Instagram left and right. Last year I went home with a dozen bumpy gooseneck squash to adorn my bare front-yard apple tree.
Even the names of the squashes are inspirational — Red Warty Thing, Pink Banana Jumbo, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, Rouge Vif d’Etampe, Carnival Dumpling, Stripetti Spaghetti, Sweet Lightning Dumpling, Table Ace, Baby Boo, Buckskin, Jack Be Quick, Phat Jack.
So, this year, get back to nature with a little urban style. Pull on those overpriced designer rubber boots and feast your eyes on autumn’s bounty at Gordon Skagit Farms.
Just not all of you, OK?
The Autumn Market at Gordon Skagit Farms, 15598 McLean Road, is open Oct. 1-31 from 9am-6pm. Participate in The Great Pumpkin Weigh-In by bringing that prize-winning behemoth before noon on the first Saturday of October.